He’s lauded for his transformation of Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund but Wednesday’s Europa League loss is Jürgen Klopp’s fifth consecutive major final defeat. DW’s Matt Pearson looks at what's going wrong.
He’s a man famed almost as much for his soundbites as his coaching and touchline fist pumps but there was one part of Jürgen Klopp’s pre-cup final press conference that sprang immediately to mind as the final whistle blew in Basel on Wednesday night.
"I have too many silver medals, it's true," the German head coach said. "But better that than no medals at all. The longer and longer it is without a win, the harder you try and the more likely it is you will win."
His team did try tonight, as Klopp sides invariably do, and until half time, they looked like they would end their manager’s losing streak. But their defeat is the former Borussia Dortmund man’s fifth consecutive major cup final loss. His second with Liverpool (they lost the League Cup final to Manchester City in February) can now be added to the Champions League final loss of 2013 and German Cup finals in 2014 and 2015.
Of course, it should be noted that, for the Anfield club, just making tonight’s final was a big achievement, especially when they looked down and out in the quarterfinal against Dortmund a month ago. And, indeed, the 2013 and 2014 losses to Bayern and, to a lesser extent, last year’s defeat to Wolfsburg, all saw Klopp’s team enter the showpiece event as underdogs. Five consecutive defeats inevitably begs serious questions though.
Wrong style or wrong attitude?
So what’s causing this? One potential issue, which there was evidence of in tonight’s second-half display, is the high intensity game the German favors.
The famous Gegenpressing style has been indisputably innovative and effective. It brought Klopp two Bundesliga titles and the 2012 domestic cup, but it also demands a lot of his players in physical terms, particularly at Liverpool where he hasn’t enjoyed a winter break or a pre-season.
After the game, Klopp accepted responsibility for the loss and admitted his players lost some trust in his system after conceding.
"The first goal is not a problem, what happened after that is the problem,” he said. “We lost faith completely in our style of play, we lost shape and we were nervous in defence.”
The amount of effort required to constantly press opponents without the ball is most likely to take its toll at the end of season and at the end of games. When they went behind, after an explosive opening to the second half from their opponents on Wednesday, they were unable to get back in the game. Undoubtedly this is partly a mental issue – to throw all your hard work away in 17 seconds is hard to take – but there was very little drive from Liverpool and very little pressure on Sevilla at any point in the second half.
Luck plays a part
This seems to be something of a pattern in end-of-season matches for Klopp's teams. In the 2013 Champions League final, Arjen Robben nicked the winner in the dying moments. In the 2014 German Cup final, Bayern scored twice in extra time. Last year, after a disappointing campaign, his side couldn’t hold onto a lead against Wolfsburg in the German Cup final.
All that being said, it’s hard to paint Wednesday’s loss as a big surprise. Despite an indifferent league campaign where they’ve failed to win a single away game, Sevilla have made the Europa League their own in recent years.
Perhaps what evaded Klopp once again tonight was simply that slice of luck that can so often define big games. Had one of Liverpool’s first-half penalty claims been given they might have been out of sight by half time. Had the ball not deflected unfortunately off James Milner for Sevilla’s third, perhaps the players would have found a little more energy and belief in the last half an hour.
But this is an all too familiar story to Klopp and it’s unlikely to provide much comfort to him when he looks back on his team’s performance over the coming days. As a result of the loss and their eighth-placed league finish, the Liverpool boss will only have two domestic cup competitions open to him next year. With the differing demands of the Premier League and the chance to make this Liverpool side his own, it will be fascinating to see if this leopard feels he needs to change his spots.